Dwayne Haskins Jr. not only dreamed as a youngster of one day winning the Heisman Trophy, he also experienced it through virtual reality.

“There is a game called NCAA: Road to Glory,” Haskins said. “So every year I would be No. 7 for Ohio State, 6 feet 4, 220, and I would go win every year I played. But we'll see how realistic that is this week.”

The third-year sophomore and first-year starter enjoyed a taste of realism Monday night. Heisman Trophy officials notified him through Ohio State that he is one of three finalists who have been invited to the presentation ceremony Saturday night in New York.

Haskins will join fellow invitees Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Kyler Murray of Oklahoma. Haskins is good friends with both, and they have something obviously in common.

“Quarterbacks — we all are the alpha males,” Haskins said.

>> Video | Dwayne Haskins Jr. talks about his friends in the Heisman race

Tagovailoa is a sophomore and Murray is a fourth-year junior, so there was a time during their high school years when the three moved in the same summer circles, such as the Elite 11 camps.

“We all competed against each other at all the camps, and we all know about one another,” Haskins said. “Kyler coming out of high school was the best quarterback in the country; Tua was like a god.

“And to be able to be in the same conversation with them makes me feel like I put the work in to be considered the best quarterback in the country. I have much respect for those guys.”

He also is deserving to be in the running, a couple of national observers said Monday.

“In 20 years we’re going to look back at what Dwayne Haskins did at Ohio State in the same way we think of what Drew Brees did at Purdue in the late ’90s,” said Bill Bender of the Sporting News. “The passing yards and TDs might not look over the top compared to quarterbacks in the Big 12, but the way Haskins stretched the field with his arm, and to every angle of the field, is something we haven’t seen since Brees.”

Through the conference title games, Haskins leads the nation in passing yards (4,580) and touchdown passes (47), both Big Ten records.

“And the two-game stretch against Michigan and Northwestern is the best a quarterback could possibly play in the Big Ten, given the stages,” Bender said.

He referred to Haskins’ 396 yards passing and six TD passes in a 62-39 win over Michigan and his 499 yards and five TD passes in a 45-24 win over Northwestern.

The reasons for giving him strong consideration are numerous, said Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com.

“The single-season Big Ten passing leader. He leads the country in TD passes. He’s tied for the lead in total TDs with 51,” said Dodd, noting Haskins’ four rushing TDs. “And most of all, for the long stretches in which he was Ohio State’s best chance to win.

Then he offered, “Best season by an Ohio State quarterback ever?”

By statistics? Yes.

By achievement? That’s still to be determined.

Troy Smith wrapped up 2½ years of starting that included three straight wins over Michigan and an unbeaten senior regular season in 2006 by becoming just the second Ohio State quarterback to win the Heisman, joining 1944 winner Les Horvath.

Now Haskins is at least in the final running to give the Buckeyes perhaps their eighth Heisman (Archie Griffin won two), which would break their tie with Notre Dame for the most by a program.

There’s no doubt what Haskins deserves, said Ohio State fifth-year senior receiver Parris Campbell, who has been one of the major beneficiaries of the aerial assault.

“He should win the Heisman,” Campbell said. “I mean, just look at the kid. He’s just thrown for the most yards ever in a championship game. The biggest thing about Dwayne is he never gets too high, never gets too low.”

He just keeps slinging it, like in a video game. But Haskins also got in practice of another sort against Northwestern, briefly striking a Heisman pose after a late TD pass to Johnnie Dixon.

“It wasn't a full-on Heisman pose,” Haskins said. “But it's a cool picture to have one day.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports